What’s the difference anyways?

Happy Maintenance Monday from AFR

Smith and Wesson frame sizes to the newbie can be a bit confusing and I got a request from a friend that helped rebuild the channel, Jacob Paulsen from Concealed Carry Inc. to shed a little light on the lingo.

The J-Frame Small Frame

The J-Frame commonly referred to as the “Chief Special” 5 shot 38.  They have been offered in many calibers 22/32/38/357 chamberings are the most common and as with anything S&W there are always exceptions to the configurations.  But as a general rule they are 5 shot 38’s in a small configuration when ‘speaking the lingo’.  Pictured above is the latest incarnation the Lipsey’s exclusive UC series.  J’s are offered in many materials with many barrel lengths, enclose frame Centennial, Hump Back Bodyguard, exposed hammers and the list goes on and on.


The K-Frame Medium Frame, my personal favorite and the longest continually produced model dating back to 1899.

The above example is a Model 19 2″ Chambered in 357 Magnum bearing Spegel Stocks.  The K frame is a medium sized revolver also made in various barrel configurations, chamberings, materials and frame congigurations.  Round and square butt offerings, adjustable and fixed sights.  It has been called the K 38,  The combat masterpiece, the target masterpiece and many others.  The K frame is renowned for its double action trigger pull in both long action and short action.  During WW2 it was produced as The Victory Model and widely issued in a Parkerized finish.  K frames and I have a long history.  Chamberings include, 38, 357, 32-20, 22’s of all variety and even 9mm.  The medium frame was widely accepted as a service size revolver and were found in police officers and military personnel holsters for the better part of a century, until the wide acceptance of the 9mm semi auto pistol.


The L-Frame Medium Frame

Introduced in the early 80’s the L frame was designed to answer the issues with shooting a diet of Magnum ammunition through the K Frame.  The guns launched with several design changes and hiccups but have grown into one of the most popular modern models S&W have ever produced.  The frame tangs are compatible with the K Frame making the stocks interchangeable across the two models.  Most modern produced stocks are marked K/L.  The L Frames were incredibly accurate although the trigger geometry, floating hand and ratchet spacing did not allow for quite as good a trigger as the ever popular K Frame.  Chamberings have been offered in 38, 357, 41mag, 22, 9mm, the 38 Super family and now the 44 Mag.  They have been made in a variety of materials and sight configurations.  The most popular being the adjustable sight stainless 357mag the model 686.

The N Frame Large Frame

The N Frame revolver, the “DB PSG” (people shootin gun) made popular by the FBI and cops all over the country as gunfighter guns and let us not forget Harry Callahan of the “Dirty Harry” series.  They were about the only offering that can digest heavy 357 magnums and still keep going.  Way more iron than needed for a 357 or 38spc but iconic for durability.  Pre WW2 the Registered Magnum has a place in the collectors history unlikely to be unseated.  The N Frame features a larger size grip tang than the K/L Frame and has been offered in a battery of calibers. 38spc, 357mag ,10mm ,44spc ,45Colt, 45acp, 9mm, 38 super and many more.  With its generous frame window and cylinder size it has a versatility in caliber unmatched in a reasonably portable revolver.  All sort of materials and barrel/sight configurations they are incredibly diverse.  The Pre-War era guns command an incredible premium and are just as functional today as they were in the roarin 20’s.  Stay tuned for more video features from DB&Y on our collections of N Frames.


I have omitted the I frame and the X frame.  The I frame primarily because I don’t own one (chime in Mark Fricke) and the X frame because it is typically reserved for hunting and backpacking rather than gunfighters carry.

Hopefully this sheds a little light on the S&W series of guns.




  1. David Drew on February 5, 2024 at 9:45 am

    That N frame looks sweet.

    • BrYan on February 5, 2024 at 10:54 am

      27-2 I got several years ago with some spegel extended boots

  2. Darren Olofson on February 5, 2024 at 10:39 am

    S&W’s pathological refusal to reissue k-frame, six-shot snubbies will always baffle me.

    • DB on February 5, 2024 at 10:48 am

      Stand by….😎

      • David Keyes on February 5, 2024 at 1:54 pm

        This warms my dark black heart. UC Model 12 please.

      • Christopher Davis on February 5, 2024 at 6:51 pm

        I picked up a 2” model 64 in anticipation of your possible snubby class. It’s such a joy to shoot it gets me even more interested to hear about possible future K frame snubbys.

        • BrYan on February 5, 2024 at 7:31 pm

          Excellent. We will make an announcement as soon as the details are hammered out.


    • BrYan on February 5, 2024 at 10:53 am

      Stand By… Bryan

  3. Jacob Paulsen on February 5, 2024 at 11:02 am

    That is helpful! My sense is that while these different sizes are S&W specific the vocab is used beyond S&W guns and has become generic in addition to specific. That leads I think to some of my past confusion.

    • BrYan on February 5, 2024 at 11:08 am

      Exactly. We use the language interchangeably with brands like Taurus and Ruger and Kimber. Colt has its own language and it is confusing to me but DB gets it.

    • John Martin on February 26, 2024 at 12:31 pm

      My personal carry for K frames is a Model 65 with a 3″ bull barrel (The FBI version). I am bummed that I have not found a CS 1 L frame with a 3″ barrel at a reasonable or even unreasonable price in the past 12 months of looking.

  4. Mike Pipes on February 5, 2024 at 10:19 pm


  5. Revchuck on February 7, 2024 at 7:41 am

    @BrYan – I’m pretty sure the L frame wasn’t a factory offering in .41 Magnum. It was offered in .40 S&W as the M646, though.

    • BrYan on February 7, 2024 at 8:44 am

      oof yep typo

  6. Codice di riferimento binance on April 23, 2024 at 7:08 pm

    Your article helped me a lot, is there any more related content? Thanks!

Leave a Comment